Video: Controversy & Difficult Conditions for Lael Wilcox During the 2019 Great Divide Race

Nov 22, 2019
by Sarah Moore  


bigquotesLael Wilcox loves the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

She loves the climbing. It's pass after pass. She loves the roads. They’re not too technical. She loves the landscapes. Traveling from Canada to Mexico, all on your bike. The Tour Divide, it’s her kind of race and she’s done it twice before.

The 2019 edition was set to be truly unique as she attempted to be the first woman to be the overall winner the race. But would the weather cooperate? Would the race and route play out as it had in her previous attempts?

Follow along as Lael takes on the most notable bikepacking route in the world and has to overcome natural and human barriers to embrace the true reasons for why she rides and inspires others to ride. Go Lael.
Pearl Izumi



66 Comments

  • 80 7
 not being able to talk to her partner is just over the top. Other competitors see family and friends during the race. Regardless well worth watching. Oh yeah and Lael and all who complete this "race" are bad ass!!!
  • 5 0
 well said .
  • 8 0
 Can somebody in the know tell me why or what rule she broke and why some were saying her other races don't count either? Seems ridiculous, she's out there doing it while it sounds like people sitting on their asses with no real life of their own are making noise.
  • 15 0
 @h82crash: I think the cited issues were around the second half of Rule 4 (tourdivide.org/the_rules):

"Tour Divide strives for equal opportunity within the GC. Whether doing an independent time trial or tackling the grand départ, TD requires that every challenger—from those living along the route to those living on other continents—have an equal playing field. Therefore, outside assistance[2] with navigation, lodging or resupply (especially receipt of supplies from a non-commercial shipper) is prohibited. Visitation: Divide racing is not intended to be a spectator sport! However, route-town locals only may interact with (i.e. visit briefly, cheer on) thru-racers as they pass through their locale. Out-of-town visitation to the GDMBR mid-race from challengers' family or friends—even if only a 'loosely-planned', remote possibility for rider rendezvous—is prohibited."

She did her best to minimize impact and I think personally the documentation was really cool- there was also the issue that another rider also had a film crew (though his film crew were private and not personally connected) and yet no one raised any concerns with it. There was also some silly online hearsay where a passionate divide race fan says they saw her getting paced by a film crew member on an e-bike but it doesn't seem like it was substantiated.

Personally I think there is no question Lael is a remarkable athlete, she has proven and continues to prove that she can do massive routes unsupported and fast AF and I think, as an outsider who has never raced something like this, that the film was a cool project giving us a view into a unique experience. Bummed about the controversy. In the end it was Jay Petervary (the rider who brought up the critisism) that suffered most as he got dumped by Salsa over it.

I also have no idea why people complained about other results. Fickle in-crowd dynamics not liking a media darling painting their sport in a way that doesn't fit their ideal of it perhaps?
  • 7 7
 It is the same rule that everyone who has successfully and respectfully raced the Tour Divide has abided by. Emotional support IS Support. If you can't play by the rules you need to find a different game.
  • 1 0
 Thanks, appreciate the answers.
  • 1 0
 @snl1200: Very well said and good observations.
  • 8 0
 @RkyMtnSrfr: Better disqualify Chris Seistrup and most of those other respectful riders then. There is video evidence of Chris's daughter filling his bottles.
Actually, most of the other fast finishers got emotional support too by Spot stalkers, phone and internet. One of the original rules was that cell phones were not allowed (that rule is now widely ignored).
  • 2 1
 @taprider: Look, I know Lael, I've personally talked to her, I like her, and I think she is an amazing person and an incredible cyclist who will continue to break records and inspire many many people. However, the real problem with her ride and all the drama that ensued was not the presence of a media crew as there have been many out there, including myself, over the years. Instead, the main problem was Rue being a part of her media crew, which went in clear violation of the long established TD rules (section 4). Personally, I saw her crew out there twice (south side of Union Pass and in the Great Divide Basin), and in both instances Rue would have had to be hiding behind their Subaru or laying down in the backseat with a blanket over her for Lael not to see her. I didn't hang around in either case to see what actually happened, and if you watched the film it's obvious of how those situations most likely transpired. And that is the rub. If you've ever raced bikes, I have, then you will understand how seeing friends or family will inspire you to try harder to go faster. These are not my rules, they are fact. All that said, I can't wait to see what Lael does when she rides it as an ITT next year.

I also think it's interesting that Alexandera Houchain, the women's winner, was not interviewed (or if she was it wasn't included in the film). I will also go on to say that while many racers were waiting at Brush Mountain for better conditions, Alexandera was out in the Great Divide Basin pushing and carrying her bike through ten miles of un-ridable mud. She did not wait, she just kept trying. Meanwhile, Chris Seistrup was also making forward progress, after dealing with the same conditions on Sand Pass earlier the same morning, in some of the worst ever conditions in Colorado- I was there, it sucked. I later asked Chris about that, and part of his training the prior winter was to go out every time it snowed to practice riding and carrying his fully loaded bike in those conditions.

Everyone has decisions to make, and they are not necessarily right or wrong.
  • 26 0
 well that takes me back...20 years ago i went for a ride down that trail. these folks have some sweet looking rides for speed. somehow ,i chose to ride a full suspension GT sts with irc Kujo tires and a bob trailer loaded with 60+ pounds of mostly unnessasary gear. took months.... really great way to travel . hotsprings were heaven . good times
  • 4 0
 That sounds RAD!
  • 3 0
 Ah those Kujo's were sweet!
  • 27 1
 This saga unfolded in real time on the Radivist site. What made the story for me is the mindset to press on. What a brawler. Their diary and pix of the Silk Road race are worth a look as well.
  • 1 0
 Yes, so good!
  • 20 1
 Lael rocks. You can't engage with FB trolls. They have all the time in the world to spout off from their mom's basement.
  • 18 1
 @softsteel Banana: 1 calorie per gram. MacDonalds/ hotdogs: 3-10 calories per gram. Don't put premium unleaded in a tank that needs diesel.
  • 7 10
 @2hellUride43 : You just speak in term of calories, calories, and...calories, which is completely biaised. What about vitamins, slow sugars, minerals and so on? Also if you and your bike weigh a tank, it`s up to you :-)
  • 15 0
 @softsteel: and In this particular race there is a bias towards calories.
  • 8 0
 @softsteel: We are talking about a race aren't we? Stressing the body like this is ALWAYS a losing battle nutritionally, even with access to "WHOLE" food. The goal is to avoid catabolism as long as possible, but it happens, and most of your minerals and vitamins during an event like this will come from the breakdown of your own tissues, ie bones and muscle. So the goal is to be as nutritionally well rounded right BEFORE the race starts so when your body starts eating itself, it hopefully has enough to go on to finish. What these athletes eat DURING is to keep them on a survivable glide path.
  • 2 6
flag softsteel (Nov 22, 2019 at 10:42) (Below Threshold)
 @fruitsd79: Interesting Daddy, size matters indeed, here at least, although I was mainly talking about QUALITY, not quantity. Nevermind....
  • 6 4
 @2hellUride43: It`s a race indeed, but a marathon, the UTMB, the Shimano Epic and so on are races as well, and as far as I`ve seen nobody eats burgers and hotdogs during these competitions, or at the end may be.
So that`s what I`ve said from the start: the difference is mainly cultural: in your side of the ocean, crap food is a norm, whether you practice a sport or not, and on a trip like that, lost in the middle of nowhere, competitors unfortunately don`t have the choice.
As said maxyedor (4 hours ago): ``Little mountain towns in the Rockies definitely don't have a Whole Foods, many of them don't even have an actual grocery store, but will always have a McD's or something similar. Small towns in America are very different than small towns in Europe.``
  • 4 0
 @softsteel: This path is really damn far away from everything. You want to complain about the availability of vegetables in the Gobi desert next?
  • 1 1
 @fruitsd79: Truth! EU sounds convenient though.
  • 8 2
 @softsteel: you have no clue. Google calories burned per activity for cycling, feed it 4-5h, then google calories in Broccoli sprouts and come back to us.
  • 4 0
 @softsteel: Again, I think it's important to realize that racers are not going to deviate from the route to go eat health food when all they are looking for is calories. You fail to recognize how remote the the trail is. The race does not go through small towns. It might come close to a small town, but it's not like it passes by many grocery stores. Riders are not going to get off course to find a fancy grocery store when it will cost them time or energy. Efficiency is the name of the game.
  • 11 0
 If the goal of this video was to inspire folks to take this on then know that you have 1000% succeeded. I've always been interested in this route and I know several people who have attempted it but I've never seen it myself. In my mind it was always this nebulous mashup of riding through stereotypical scenes from each state and this video shows that it is so much more.
  • 11 2
 This is one of the most inspiring bike movies I've seen in a while. Cant believe she had to go through all the BS to get this media project film. Absolutely ridiculous and just highlights how much of an uphill battle women who ride bikes still face. It is difficult to talk to our male counterparts about it barbecue they dont experience that type of discrimination so often they just cant relate and thus they think it as not as bad as it is. Good for Lael for just saying fuck it and continuing on despite all of that. We need more content like this.
  • 10 0
 I've done some gravel races (multi-day) but nothing like this.

I cried a few times watching this.

Amazing. I am so inspired.
  • 6 0
 Insensitive armchair critics are a part of any social media including PB. Ones actions define who we are. All who participate in this race are winners. I would have no idea of the scope of this race if this documentary was not created. thank you.
  • 7 0
 2021 I take my shot at the GDMBR! My only goal is to finish healthy. I'm extremely excited and cant wait! I've been following Lael for awhile now and she has been a huge motivator to give it a go.
  • 4 0
 I've always wanted to do this route. I remember (probably 20 years ago), my mother gave me a pamphlet about the route. Never forgot it. Still don't have the nerve to try it. Maybe one day. .
Good job on capturing a beautiful route. Oh, and NM does have the best sunsets and sunrises I've ever seen. Lived there for 60 days and raced outside each night to see the sky. Theres something special about that place.
  • 3 0
 funny, 20 years ago my mom gave me a map set for this route and as my life needed a '' reroute'' at the time, i went for it. glad i did, good therapy and good adventure. its never too late if you get inspired, i say go for it! cheers,man and thanks, mom!
  • 4 0
 Lael single-handedly destroying the 'Anti AXS' crowd on PB by running an AXS drivetrain over a 2100mi race.. I'm honestly a bit surprised but hey whatever works. Amazing film.
  • 1 0
 Mike Hall set the still standing Record in 2016 on Shimano Di2.
  • 8 2
 That is about as underwhelming a finish area as Megaavalanche.
  • 4 0
 Lael mentioned this in a post on the Silk Road race. I asked her what she does after a race, when everyone's just chilling and she was kind enough to respond. Basically, when you finish one of those things, there's no endorphin rush or crazy celebration because you're just too shelled. You basically have the energy to pose with your bike, if that's a thing, and then stumble inside for food and real sleep, according to her.
  • 7 1
 Man, it's so heartwarming to see such kind people in this selfish times.
  • 6 1
 The age of outrage. Makes me wonder what comes next ....
  • 3 0
 read Lael's day by day blog on radavist.com as she rides the Silk Road she is not only one of the greatest endurance cyclists in the world she may be one of the best journalists
  • 4 0
 Imagine being the mechanic on duty when these folks roll through. Nasty sweaty booger bikes.
  • 1 0
 Mad props, I have incredible respect for anyone who does this. It must be an incredible emotional letdown going back to the 9-5. Anybody else find themselves depressed after a mass sustained physical exertion?
That being said, I'd almost rather drink my own urine than water from a garden hose.
  • 1 0
 Its very inspiring to watch and engaged my 8 year old daughter unexpectedly as I watched it on my Mac in the kitchen. She pulled up a chair and started asking questions. First among them as she watched was "why does she have to follow rules that other people don't and why are people being mean to her?" Although I had to explain a little more on the social media front. The thing for my daughter that really struck a note was the comparison with what she has been going through in school. That boys ARE treated differently in Phys Ed. and that they NEVER pass the ball dad! I have a boy and a girl and it's still a disappointment that gender equality has so far to go. I might get criticism for making this point, regardless of rules, Lael's observation that she is getting heat when a male rider is not, is surely a further indictment of continuing inequality.

Let's push things forward. I think this made my daughter 10 times more likely to take the ball at school.
  • 2 2
 such a good watch! Iam surprised by how much shitfood they had on their way haha. I would try to have some proper food to keep me running. But well...you cant judge until youre out there...Being on the bike for such a long time just seems amazing! Respect to everyone doing it!
  • 3 0
 This is so cool. Lael is so inspiring. Keep on pedaling, we're all behind you!
  • 2 0
 Inspiring movie. And of course as always there is the keyboard warriors who know everything better.
  • 1 0
 Does anyone here know of the racer Sara Dallman? I believe she won the women’s race in 2013
  • 1 0
 Can anyone tell me if I can take my cat on the TD Race next year? I cant find a rule saying I cant....?
  • 1 0
 That was awesome. Lael got a new fan.
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